Are All Germs Bad?
Have you ever wondered “Are all germs bad?” The answer is NO! There are beneficial germs that you come into contact with every day.
Beneficial Microorganisms vs. Harmful Microorganisms
Are all “microorganisms” bad? We talk a lot about the prevention of illnesses by stopping the spread of germs through general cleanliness, washing our hands regularly, and doing things that promote good health. All these measures help us deal with the microorganisms that we come into contact with every day. Through exposure to them, a very small number of microorganisms have the potential to cause disease.
However, when we talk about microorganisms, we rarely pay attention to the low risk, beneficial ones. Did you know that beneficial microorganisms vastly outnumber the harmful ones? The amazing thing is that these microorganisms are naturally occurring, classified as low risk. They are helpful in many ways and have had a positive impact in their relationship with humans, animals, and the environment since the dawn of time.
Here are some examples of how beneficial microorganisms are utilized to better our lives:
Food and Beverage Production
Yogurt, cheese, buttermilk, pickles, olives, salami, soy sauce, vinegar, wine, beer, and bread are all examples of foods and beverages made with the help of different types of bacteria and yeast.
Microflora and Probiotics
Billions of bacteria live in the human digestive tract and other parts of the body. These bacteria break down food in our bodies that did not get digested earlier in the digestive system, out compete potentially pathogenic microbes, produce vitamins needed to protect their hosts from infections, and promote nutrition and health.
A good habit to maintain balance between beneficial and harmful bacteria in our digestive system is consuming foods or supplements that contain probiotics. These are beneficial bacteria such as Lactobacillus sp. and Bifidobacteria sp., contained in foods like natural yogurts, kefir, and fermented milk products.
Biotechnology and Bioremediation
Biotechnology refers to the use of microorganisms for industrial, medical, and pharmaceutical applications. For example, “white biotechnology” is the use of beneficial microorganisms for industrial waste degradation. As nature’s ultimate degraders and recyclers, bacteria are essential in the treatment of wastewater and for filtering toxic organic material by converting it into other compounds that can be discharged into the environment.
“Red biotechnology” is the study and discovery of innovative drugs and medical treatments. Beneficial microorganisms have also an important role in this, as well. Antibiotics are produced in nature by molds, such as Penicillium sp., and by bacteria like Streptomyces sp. and some Bacillus species. The soil environment has plentiful amounts of microorganisms. These are essential in the production of nutrients but also invaluable as decomposers and in the recycling of these essential nutrients. Bacteria are capable of degrading dead animal and plant material into more simple organic compounds that become the start of the food chain for all other organisms.
Also, microorganisms break down many types of environmental pollutants, such as oil, when these pose a contamination threat to soil and water. The use of living microorganisms for cleaning up these pollutants from the environment is called Bioremediation.
Beneficial microorganisms have been incorporated into many consumer products that we use routinely. Products such as all purpose cleaners, carpet cleaners, and grease trap, drain, and septic treatments are all examples of products that enlist the help of non-pathogenic, beneficial bacteria to clean surfaces, eliminate odors, and degrade excess organic waste in many different applications.